The Talk I’ve Never Given

March 21, 2004 | 23 comments
By

Good morning, sisters and brothers. Well, those of you in the audience who know me know that I have a real interest in gender issues; some of you know that I specialized in such things in school. And I continue to read about and think about these things quite a bit. And I think I can finally say that I have come to a conclusion.

And my conclusion is this: the Church is sexist. (Steal glance over shoulder at bishop’s face if possible.) And, quite frankly, (pause here for effect) I don’t know why you men put up with it.

I have tried every apologetic tactic, every twisted reading of scripture and policy that I can think of, but in the last analysis, the current doctrine and practice of the Church just simply isn’t fair to men. And I cannot remain silent any longer while my brothers suffer. Let me share with you some of my observations.

First, although I know that you, my dear brothers, serve worthily in the positions to which you are called, I also know that many faithful LDS men wonder why their spheres are so limited. You know that you will never lead the Primary; you know that you will not be allowed to work with young children without supervision; and you feel the limitation. You struggle with this, I know. You know which part of the building our Savior would visit, should he come to our meetings here today, and you know that your gender is grossly underrepresented there. You feel the sting, and I feel for you. I want to assure you that this division of labor in no way implies that God loves you any less than he does his daughters.

You long for equity in your marriage relationships, for you know that this is pleasing to the heavens. But then you also know that the General Handbook of Instructions makes clear that, when it comes to the most important decision couples will make, having children, it is your wife, and not you, who will have the greater voice. You struggle with this, and wonder where is justice. Please be assured, my dear brethren, that God cares as much for His sons as He does for his daughters.

You work long hours, many of you, to support your families. But you know that your work, be you lawyer, doctor, or farmer, is not of an eternal nature. You see your wives getting to devote their best efforts to children; to work that is eternal; to work with rewards that span the eternities; and you know that the rewards of your work are filthy lucre, and you wonder why the powers that be have once again limited your sphere to such trivial things. You know, of course, that if God were to fill out one of those forms, the most correct box to check for occupation would be ‘stay-at-home parent’, and you weep that you are denied the privilege of following in the divine footsteps. I feel your pain.

You turn to the scriptures for solace, as we all should. Just don’t turn to the Gospel of Mark. We know of the searing gender inequities in this text, in what most believe to be the earliest Gospel, in this precious record of the life of Christ. We find the male disciples plodding along, mere foils for Jesus to educate, while the women around Jesus time and again display faithfulness and prophetic gifts in abundance. We know this makes you question your very worth as sons of the divine. We know this hurts. We know that you know that not a single story relates either resurrection or raising from the dead without including women as main characters in the story. We know you wonder about this.

I know how difficult it is for you to even go to Church, where your Elder’s Quorum instructors apologize for not preparing a lesson, while you know that next door, the Relief Society teacher may very well be apologizing for not preparing a centerpiece. You know that women’s classes and meetings in Church are generally better prepared, more open, and more meaningful. I know you wonder why this is. You are full aware that the main job of the Elder’s Quorum is to move heavy things, while your sisters in the Relief Society take care of each other in a truly profound way; sisters bind the broken hearts and heal the wounded souls; men move pianos. We nonetheless want to assure you that you are truly full participants in God’s plan of salvation.

I want you to know, my dear brothers, that all of the injustices you suffer due to your gender in this earthly state will be recompensed in the eternities.

Tags:

23 Responses to The Talk I’ve Never Given

  1. Kaimi on March 21, 2004 at 6:38 pm

    Julie,

    Nice. I particularly like your discussion of careers.

    A nitpick: I can’t work with young kids? I’ve got a lot of church experience that says otherwise. (Aside: I also served, briefly, as a branch Relief Society president on my mission — or maybe it was first counselor; my companion and I split up that presidency, as well as the branch presidency, as well as most other things. We were highly jealous of the cool Relief Society manuals we got to teach from, which Elders Quorum had nothing like).

  2. Julie in Austin on March 21, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    Kaimi–

    You can’t work *unsupervised*. My understanding, maybe someone with a GHI can correct me, is that while two women, or a couple, could serve in the nursery, two men cannot. Anyone?

  3. Kaimi on March 21, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    Two women? A couple? Hah! We usually don’t have the bodies in our ward for _one_ woman to serve in nursery.

    In my prior ward, there were certainly other people who worked in the nursery. So there was often more than one person in the room. But definitely not all the time — maybe ~15% or 20% of the time, I was the only adult in the room.

  4. Kaimi on March 21, 2004 at 7:02 pm

    Now, what they really need is a rule about men being in the _kitchen_ unsupervised . . .

  5. Julie in Austin on March 21, 2004 at 7:04 pm

    Right now, we have a minimum of 6 nursery workers each week (grin).

  6. lyle on March 21, 2004 at 8:12 pm

    Julie:

    Wow. Thanks for the entertainment, sarcasm (?) and insight.

    I made a similar comment, once, on “the other blog,” which didn’t go over well. I am thrilled to learn from another with more tact.

    I think you should send a copy of your talk to Margaret Toscano, who gave a very interesting talk at the SMPT conference this weekend.

    Unlike your post, Dr. Toscano feels that salvatory discourse excludes women because women are excluded from the ranks of the Priesthood. I had to admit that I had never thought of this idea before (I can’t remember the D&C passage she supported in textual support) . . . and was somewhat shocked at the prospect, as I found the fear and uncertainty Dr. Toscano expressed to be beyond the pale of the imagination-eternal possibilities.

    Afterwords, I told her that I would share with her; and you are welcome to a copy as well, of the LDS scriptures that replaces all references of “he” with “she” and “m(a/e)n” with
    “wom(a/e)n”. I’m going to send Brent a copy as well, and if he still isn’t bothered, per Steve’s comment/reminder above, about the concerns that Dr. Toscano has raised, then I’ll be open to the possibility that gender discourse is more helpful than harmful.

    Regardless…you definately helped in that regard; this post was worth many barrels of laughter.

  7. Logan on March 21, 2004 at 8:50 pm

    Kaimi, I just wanted to stick up for the one woman your ward’s nursery supposedly can’t usually muster. I think she does an excellent (and thankless) job, and she’s almost always there.

  8. Kaimi on March 21, 2004 at 9:13 pm

    Logan,

    Yes, things have gotten a lot better. The nursery is actually more-or-less stable now (though it has one person, apparently a violation of some rule?). I still recall the days when we moved in, when nursery was regularly combined with Primary. Of course, that was because they had released the prior nursery leader, who reportedly had threatened to lock the kids in the dark if they misbehaved (!).

  9. s Stephen on March 21, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    I know how difficult it is for you to even go to Church, where your Elder’s Quorum instructors apologize for not preparing a lesson, while you know that next door, the Relief Society teacher may very well be apologizing for not preparing a centerpiece. You know that women’s classes and meetings

    I know that I used to really wonder about the fact that the priesthood always got blamed for everything and got to move the chairs, the sisters always were referred to as the core and got the good lessons. “Sins of the Fathers” vs. “Teachings of the Mothers” and that sort of thing.

    BTW, I’ve taught Primary and worked in nursery and I found it fulfilling.

    Who knows.

    Stephen
    http://adrr.com/living/

    (BTW, posting a comment on this thread required using the shift key for everything?)

  10. Logan on March 21, 2004 at 10:44 pm

    Kaimi, I don’t know about any “rule” (ah, what a word!) that says there must be two people in nursery, although I don’t pretend to have any idea about such things. But for what it’s worth, the Bishop did just ask Amy (as Primary president) to come up with another person to put in there.

  11. Kristine on March 21, 2004 at 11:08 pm

    OK, not that I don’t find the intricacies of nursery staffing fascinating, but… back to Julie’s topic.

    First of all, Amen! What a clever talk; I hope you give it someday.

    I wonder whether you think what you label “sexism” is the result of human failings, or whether it really reflects some divine intent for the education of the genders?

  12. Russell Arben Fox on March 22, 2004 at 1:34 am

    I was the sole nursery worker in our ward in Virginia for about three months. Well, that’s not quite true: I was a nursery worker, while the nursery leader was a woman. But she was having a nervous breakdown, and never came to to church. So it was just me, week after week, with 7 to 12 kids. I liked it; kind of gave me an adrenalin rush. Everyone in the Primary organization knew I was the only one in there, and no one ever said anything about replacing me or making sure I wasn’t alone with the kids, so far as I know.

  13. Bob Caswell on March 22, 2004 at 3:36 am

    Lyle,

    You were there for Margaret Toscano’s talk? Hmm… I don’t know you, but you may know me now. I think I was one of the only (the only one?) males who actually had a concern/comment during the Q&A section.

    Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, could you get me a copy of the female scriptures?

  14. Gordon Smith on March 22, 2004 at 3:58 am

    Julie, I wonder how your children understand you with your tongue planted so deeply in your cheek. That was excellent.

    As with all well-written satire, this can be read in multiple ways. Here’s my take: while men are not exactly lining up to take the place of women in the Church, it is far from clear to me that we shouldn’t. I don’t mean that we should try a wholesale role reversal, but if the eternal salvation of our families is truly the most important task at hand, shouldn’t we be more engaged than we are? And shouldn’t we value the time spent with children more than we do?

    A few weeks ago, the issue of gender roles arose in my Seminary class. One of the young women wanted to know my views. I had a fairly simple response: men should be more involved with their families. That includes me. Her mother later told me that her daughter was pleased with that answer. Whew!

  15. lyle on March 22, 2004 at 10:06 am

    Bob:

    Sure, I’d be glad to get you a copy. Note, the work is still about 2-3 months from completion; will initially focus on unique Mormon Canonical scriptures, then move to the Bible.

    We probably ‘noticed’ each others presence, perhaps? I had to leave before the Q&A started; but I was the only person there in ethnic non-American dress.

    Also re: Dr. Toscano: she mentioned a dirth of women-folk, vis-a-vis the # of men-folk, interested in Mormon theology. To her surprise, the gender ratio during her ‘talk’ was 2:1 male:female. However, one attendee points out that many of the women in the audience were friends&family of Ben. However…why didn’t the attendee wonder if Dr. Toscano had brought a bevy of men-folk?

  16. Thom on March 22, 2004 at 10:09 am

    Julie,

    You could perhaps add a line indicating how much more comfortable the Relief Society room is than whatever rinky-dink meeting space the Elders Quorum is assigned to meet in. I have never been in a ward or branch where the RS did not have swanky padded chairs, while the EQ always gets the cold, hard chairs of suffering. I’ve always viewed the disparity of seating comfort as mild foreshadowing of what awaits in the afterlife for the respective gender groups.

  17. Melissa on March 22, 2004 at 11:37 am

    Bob,

    I had to leave the panel on Saturday early so I missed the rest of the Q and A. What was your comment/concern about Toscano’s paper?

  18. Bob Caswell on March 22, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    Melissa,

    I actually recorded her presentation and also Bob Millet’s talk on “What is doctrine?”. When I get the time (probably tomorrow), I’ll transcribe parts of both of them and post them on my blog.

    But in the mean time, the short version of what I told Margaret was basically a “good luck” with the lofty goal of changing the mentality of a worldwide Church without causing many other issues to surface. Not that I’m against her point of view, but rather concerned with her “me vs. the world” approach.

  19. Nate Oman on March 22, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    I am sorry, but is there anyone who seriously believes that Margaret Toscano, qua Margaret Toscano, is likely to have any influence on Mormonism? It seems that one of the greatest services that she could do for her ideas is to conceal, as much as possible, that they are in fact her ideas…

  20. Clark Goble on March 22, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    I have to agree with Nate on this one. (Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the SMPT conference — I had hoped to at least make it to the postmodern session)

  21. Ben on March 22, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    Bob, is it identical or near so to this paper? http://home.uchicago.edu/~spackman/millet.doc
    He gave that to BYU religion faculty a couple months ago.

  22. lyle on March 22, 2004 at 5:45 pm

    Nate:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m probably just flattering myself; but I think you could apply your advice for her to me too.

  23. Sci on March 23, 2004 at 11:14 am

    Here is a great quote from the Millet paper on the link Ben gave above:

    A baptist minister complains to Millet:
    “Many of my fellow Christians have noted how hard it is to figure out what Mormons believe. They say it’s like trying to nail jello to the wall!”

    I think the Jello analogy is particularly relevant, if somewhat violent (perhaps this minister just saw the Passion)?